Nothing beats home cooking, and the Jets have a chance to move above .500 on the season as they play their second straight home game this week. The Lions, on the other hand, are 0–3 on the road this season, and since 2001 they have gone 5–38 away from home. On paper, this is a game that the Jets should win, but there are plenty of reasons why Jets fans shouldn't be overconfident.
DETROIT LIONS (1-5) AT JETS (3-3)
(Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX)
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Last week the Lions' defense registered five sacks, the second time they had accomplished the feat this season. Normally, that would be a cause for concern for a team like the Jets, whose pass protection has been somewhat spotty.
However, in the Lions' other four games combined they have totaled just one sack, and they'll enter the weekend without the most important player on their defense. On Tuesday, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers was suspended for four games after testing positive for a banned substance. His solid play in the middle was the key in Detroit's win against Buffalo last week, and his presence will be sorely missed.
Without a consistent pass rush, the porous Detroit secondary will be overmatched. In the games where they notched at least two sacks, the Lions held opposing teams to 165 net passing yards. When they registered one or no sacks in a game, the average soars to 290 passing yards a game.Opposing quarterbacks are completing more than 70% of their passes against the Lions, racking up 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions.Cornerbacks Fernando Bryant and Dre' Bly are playmakers, but they have struggled in man coverage this year, and you can be sure that Jets quarterback Chad Pennington will test them.
The Lions rank 11th in run defense, and part of that success has come as a result of pulling their safeties up toward the line of scrimmage. But the loss of Rogers and the absence of DT Shaun Cody (out with a toe injury) leaves then especially vulnerable up the middle. The Lions will try to plug the hole with backup Marcus Bell and will also move starting DE Cory Redding inside to play tackle. The latter move means that pass rushing specialist Kalimba Edwards will be forced to play every down. His speed makes him effective as an edge rusher, but he lacks the bulk and strength to match up with offensive linemen on running plays. This is another situation that the Jets will try to exploit.
Jets coach Eric Mangini continues to insist that he's satisfied with his rotation of running backs, and Leon Washington did play well again last week, making the case for more carries and perhaps a chance to become the primary ball carrier.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Mike Martz, architect of the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf," is the Lions' new offensive coordinator this season, and there are signs that his system is beginning to work. Quarterback Jon Kitna leads the NFL in pass attempts (38 a game),and with the exception of one bad outing against the Vikings, he has been productive.
The biggest reason the Lions have struggled on this side of the ball has been a rash of injuries to their veteran offensive linemen. Right guard Damien Woody was placed on the injured reserve list last week with a foot injury. Left guard Ross Verba didn't play last week because of a hamstring injury and is listed as doubtful this week. So is right tackle Rex Tucker, who has been struggling to recover from a knee injury suffered in training camp.
Many observers were caught by surprise last week, when running back Kevin Jones ran for 127 yards behind that patchwork line. They shouldn't have been. Jones is emerging as a dangerous running back in the Martz offense, which takes advantage of both his slashing running style and his ability to catch balls out of the backfield.
The passing game has been jump started by two receivers who played under Martz in St. Louis — Mike Furrey (28 catches for 322 yards) and Az-Zahir Hakim (16 catches for 141 yards).Their mastery of the offense has also helped teammate Roy Williams to finally emerge as a big-time receiver in his third season. He posted career highs with 10 catches for 161 yards last week against the Bills. It was the third time in four games Williams topped the 100-yard mark.
The Jets defense ranks dead last in the NFL, allowing 370 yards a game. They are 27th against the pass and 31st against the run. The team has been slow in adapting to the new 3–4 defense that Mangini brought with him from New England. In particular, Jonathan Vilma has struggled in the transition from middle linebacker in the 4–3 to playing inside linebacker in Mangini's system. Defensive tackle Dwayne Robertson also has had trouble adjusting to his new role where he lines up directly across from the center rather than over a gap.
Jets' defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has been aggressive, using a variety of fronts and coverage to keep opposing quarterbacks off balance. And while Gang Green has given up a lot of yards, they've also forced eight turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown.
KEYS TO THE GAME I don't know if it's a lack of intensity, poor conditioning, or some other factor, but the Jets have not finished any of their games strong. After building a 20–3 lead against a clearly inferior Dolphins team last week, the Jets' defense let Miami score two fourth quarter touchdowns. Gang Green escaped with a win only after Dolphins kicker Olindo Mare missed a late field goal attempt. The Jets had similar fourth quarter letdowns in their wins against the Bills and Titans. In total, they've been outscored 60–38 in the fourth quarter. The Lions offense has the potential to be explosive if the Jets aren't careful, and if they don't play better in the final quarter they will find themselves the victims of an upset.
Lahman's Pick: Jets 28-16